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The Pools Are Looking Murky And The Big Beasts Are Hungry For Prey

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By David Williams

We’re still in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup but the big beasts are starting to stir.

The Dragons of Wales, the Australian Wallabies, the leaping Springboks, the crowing French cockrell, and the . . err, prickly roses of England and spikey Scottish thistles are all on show.

And, look! We’ve had our first sighting of the famous “wounded animal” – the team every respectful opposition coach claims isn’t dazed and confused, but licking i’s lips at the chance of revenge.

In this case it was Wales assistant coach Jonathan Thomas, who says the Wallabies have to be approached with caution in the crunch match between the countries in Pool C on Sunday.

And not just one animal reference from old JT, but two!

“It is a cliche, and I apologise, but you just have to focus on yourselves,” he said.

“When you start thinking about permutations or selection of the opposition, you go down a rabbit hole, in my opinion.

“Confidence, for me, comes from the work you do during the week. That is where we get our focus from.

“We respect Australia as a rugby nation. But they are a wounded animal, they can be dangerous.”

Eddie Jones’ team are teetering on the edge of a World Cup pool stage exit for the first time.

If Wales beat them in Lyon, then their quarter-final hopes will be over and head coach Jones left to face the music.

Some former Wallabies are already baring their teeth and snarling out the insults.

Take this one from former Aussie wing Drew Mitchell about a team on the edge after losing to Fiji.

“Let’s not take away from the fact we f****** shouldn’t have lost to Fiji,” he said on The Good, The Bad and The Rugby Aus podcast.

“Eddie sits there and goes, ‘yeah, it’s my fault. I take full responsibility.’ What the f*** does that mean though? He doesn’t get dropped this week, he’s not, not coaching next week, it’s just an empty f****** line at a press conference. What does that equate to? Nothing.”

Wounded Wallabies or fully murdered marsupials, Wales need to tread carefully. A win, a draw, or even a losing bonus point will put them in a very strong position to make the quarter-finals, but if they lose by eight points or more, the Aussies will smell blood.

The Irish don’t really have a national creature – mythical or otherwise – to send into the World Cup jungle, unless you want to include the leprechaun.

But they are looking strong enough so far without one. Two wins from two, and 10 points in the bag with none of the generosity to their opponents that allowed Wales to give up two bonus points to the Fijians.

Now, though, they face the mighty Boks on Saturday night and Ireland’s assistant coach Simon Easterby – once of the Scarlets – says a winning leopard should never change its spots.

Ireland have won 27 of their last 29 Tests after beginning the tournament with thumping bonus-point victories over Romania and Tonga and Easterby says: “We know that when we play well and we play a certain way that we’re going to be difficult to play against and difficult to beat.

“We’ll be looking to implement a lot of the stuff that you’ll have seen over the last couple of years in what we do on Saturday as we have tried to do in the Tonga and Romania games.”

Kyle Steyn has warned Scotland they must be ready to match the bull-like strength and physicality of Tonga if they are to secure the bonus-point win they require on Sunday.

The Scots go into their second match at the tournament in Nice on Sunday knowing they have no margin for error remaining after losing their opening game to South Africa.

Gregor Townsend’s side will be hot favourites to get the result they need, but wing Steyn insisted it would be a mistake to underestimate the Tongans, who are ranked 15th in the world and looking to bounce back from a 59-16 defeat by Ireland.

“It will be a physical test, especially at a World Cup,” he said. “Tonga has a really passionate culture, they’re big on family and they really play for each other.”

Finally, the lesser-spotted Marcus Smith is primed to make his first start at full-back in England’s game against Chile on Saturday.

Smith will switch to the No.15 jersey having made four cameos from the bench in the position over the last six weeks.

Skipper Owen Farrell is set to start at fly-half as his four-match ban comes to an end, with George Ford reduced to a role on the bench.

Victory over the South American minnows could book England’s place in the quarter final and Steve Borthwick is expected to rotate his team.

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